What is a "complex" business environment?

30 January 2011

Written by Berlin Asonganyi - January 30 2011

You read and hear; organisations nowadays operate in a "complex environment". But what exactly is a "complex" business environment has recently challenged my own knowledge. Yet—complex business environment—is a phrase we used daily.

I ran a search query of the phrase on the databases of emerald insight, EBSCOhost and even Google. Of the hundreds of research papers and corporate reports/articles I read, a near 99% carried no meaning of "complex" environment. The very few that operationalised the concept, define a complex business environment as one besieged with unpredictable changes or an environment which is dynamic.

Yet, I'm far from being satisfied with such definitional constructs. For, unpredictability and dynamism do not translate to complexity. Likewise, unpredictable and shifting occurrences do not amount to a complex business environment. Resolving this query, I turned to the dictionary for the meaning of "complexity": interconnected parts; or difficult to analyse, understand or explain. Therefore, suggesting anything that defies analysis, understanding or explanation amounts to complexity.

Should I adhere to the above-construct of complexity, then environmental complexity isn't a new phenomenon. Surely, centuries ago, organisations and their managers witnessed situations that defied understanding and explanation. Yet throughout the second half of the 20th century, and especially in the 21st century, corporate executives and academics have presented business environmental complexity as a novel phenomenon. Maybe, today's environmental complexity surpasses yesterday's. Yet again, does the absence of explanation and understanding make the business environment complex?

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